In a month I will be participating in the Hudson River Fellowship for my third consecutive summer, and to say I am looking forward to it is an understatement! I love my New York City life, but I really come alive in the mountains, so I look forward to summer a lot. Summer, you are here, and I am freaking out!
I’m writing this post about a few of my teachers who I study with at the Grand Central Academy and the Hudson River Fellowship. Jacob Collins, Travis Schlaht, and Edward Minoff all come from a background of academic figure painting, which is what makes their approach to landscape unique. I’ve been fortunate to study with them for the past three years at GCA and then tag along with them at the fellowship over the summers. What I’ve been trying to learn from them is how to make plein air studies in the field that will be useful back in the studio as reference for large scale paintings. It is important to note that taking reference photos is not gonna happen, so all reference material must be collected in oil sketches, pencil sketches, written notes, and conceptual understanding of light/form/perspective/subject. A sharp memory helps too. One of the fun and fascinating things that happens with this process is that you can never get all the information you need, and the missing gaps force you to figure out a solution, expand your understanding, and exercise your brain. It keeps you on your toes, and allows for more creative thought.
I took the above photo of Travis’ “Forest Interior” painting at the recent ACOPAL exhibition. This large canvas is the result of many smaller studies done on site, including the one below. You can see how the smaller study contains a lot of specific information for the rocks and roots in the foreground, but the distant trees and the upper half of the study are much more vague. To complete the larger painting, Travis must have referred to different studies he has of trees in the forest, how light penetrates foliage, and the different values of tree trunks as they recede in space. To combine all these different things into one believable image takes a solid understanding of light and form and a lot of time spent observing nature.
Jacob Collins has a show up right now (until July) at Adelson Galleries in NYC, so if you’re in the city don’t miss it! To illustrate the idea of using studies for reference material in the studio, I’ve chosen this drawing of Hen Islands. You can see where it appears in the background of the finished painting below. The drawing is only 13 inches wide, but the finished painting is 7 feet wide, so you can see why making a very detailed drawing is important here! All the different studies Jacob used to make this large studio painting are on the Hirsch & Adler site. There’s also a good interview with Jacob on the subject of landscape painting on the artist daily blog. Jacob is overflowing with quotable advice for aspiring painters, but one thing he said that really stuck with me is that you have to be insatiably curious about the world around you. When you’re out painting and sketching, be trying to learn and understand as much as you can about your subject, and that means beyond simple visual impressions.
Edward Minoff’s working process is absolutely insane. To create these huge studio paintings, he goes out to the beach and sits for hours watching the ocean, taking written notes, and trying to understand how water behaves. Small plein air studies like the one below serve as color references. A detailed article describing his working process can be found on his website for those curious about the master of waves.
So that’s just a little bit of inspiration from some of my teachers. I hope I can keep up the blogging this summer and find time to write more thoughts and ideas about what I’m learning as I go.